At New York Comic Con (NYCC), I got to interview the creators behind The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack. It was a great time and if you’re NOT reading this comic, you SHOULD be. Enjoy.
What influences the witchcraft in your book?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: For me, I think it’s two things. One is…you know in the ’60s and ’70s there were a ton of Satanism and devil movies like Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and The Amityville Horror, so that, of course, has always been the filter through which the book goes. Also, I worked on a play that was sort of in response to Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and the Abigail Williams character from that. So I did a bunch of research on New England witchcraft and New England witch tradition, like the short stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne and things like that. I think that’s also been an influence but it is obviously…me growing up and watching these movies, reading these books and reading these stories and all of it sort of filtering through it.
Robert Hack: And for me, it’s basically the same thing. I try not to draw from Wicca because we’re doing something so dark—I have a Wiccan ex-girlfriend who I ran all this stuff by to begin with just to make sure we’re not offending anyone. So there’s a lot of that, and a lot drawn from fiction from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.
How important was it for you both to have this book be as female-centric as it is? The ideas that have been floated among our staff while reading this comic were things like patriarchy’s fear of female agency, and the women not being penalized for their pursuit of power.
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: I think…you know, it’s funny that you say that because the book is very female-centric and it is women who drive the narrative and it is women who are the heroes and the villains. I guess we really have dozens of female characters and only three male characters, one of whom just died, so we’re down to two and one of them is a cat. So it is and I’ve always been drawn towards strong, complicated female characters…you know in my plays, and even when I was writing the Fantastic Four for Marvel—you know, thirteen years ago—my editor at the time joked and said, “You know, you should just do a comic book about the Invisible Woman,” because every Fantastic Four adventure that I told was focused on Sue Richards. It was sort of like…almost like an Invisible Woman book with the Fantastic Four characters. It’s just something I’ve always been drawn to.
Robert Hack: Visually, I’ve been trying to just present the women as real women. Not sexualized. I’ve been very careful with the covers. They’re not…I mean, at another company this could be very cleavage-y and that’s absolutely the thing that we don’t want to do. So with Sabrina, the sexuality is there. With Madam Satan…the characters are sexy when they want to be sexy and when they’re around the house, they’re themselves.
You talked about the death of Harvey, who was the driving force for Sabrina, which in other stories ss usually a role fulfilled by the female character. I don’t know if you did this intentionally but why was Harvey’s death linked to sexuality?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: I think that the book, you know—a lot of representations of witchcraft are a very sexualized. In past times, women who were sexual were called witches and the fact of the matter is that Sabrina is a sixteen-year-old girl, and one way we describe the book is this dark coming-of-age story for Sabrina and that does involve sex. Even in that issue [Issue #3], I think you flash back to a time when Harvey was in the woods going to look at girly magazines and there’s a sense of this forbidden because I think that’s how sometimes people especially relate to teenagers and sex. Something they don’t really want to talk about or engage with and it feels naughty in a way that feels like the most transgressive stuff in the book is all the sexuality stuff. For instance, Harvey pressures Sabrina to have sex. Like that’s a scene that happens in the book and Sabrina saying, “Wait, because I’m saving myself for the Dark Lord.” So it’s very transgressive and it’s a theme that’s inherent and it felt like the death of Harvey should feel sexualized and transgressive. I mean, he’s literally killed by a bunch of naked women. It also feels very elemental and primal, and almost like a Greek myth.
In terms of the art…first of all, the bloody Sabrina is so stunning and made me fall for this comic even more in how that was executed. Regarding the scene we just talked about with Harvey in the car pressuring Sabrina, he looked much older and creepier. I wanted to know if that was intentional.
Robert Hack: Subconscious, probably. [Laughs]
Why do you use watercolors and more specifically, the sepia hue? Three of our site’s reviewers interpreted its effects differently: one saw it as a way of distancing the readers chronologically, another said it felt earthy while avoiding a deep dive into the grim but still making you feel uncomfortable, and the other one described it as sickly and humid. I wanted to know if any of those are true, some of them or none of them?
Robert Hack: All of them a little bit. I think it has the rotting paper…it’s like you found something old. You found something that is perhaps found in a flea market and perhaps you shouldn’t be reading it. That sort of rotting around the edges of the page.
There are characters like the aunts who are clearly evil but also do things out of their love for Sabrina. Or that scene in issue four where the police are interrogating a suspect by beating him, which suggests “evilness” isn’t reserved just for the supernatural characters. There’s also the question of Sabrina and how her morality is tied to being able to give consent. At sixteen, she’s beginning to become her own person who can form her own ideas of what’s moral. My question is if it was your intention to have the readers re-evaluate the complexity of good and evil as well as sprinkle in some moral ambiguity?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: There’s a lot of ambiguity in Sabrina. Weirdly to me, one of the first and strongest instances of Sabrina’s moral ambiguity is in the first issue when she casts a spell for Harvey to like her and you think, “That’s a little bit dark, actually,” and that is very much something we’re exploring. That as Sabrina gets older, and as Sabrina comes more into her own as a witch, her morality will get more and more complicated. It’s called The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, but it could have also been called—the way there was Dark Phoenix—Dark Sabrina, because it does feel like you don’t quite know on what side Sabrina is going to end up. That’s some of the suspense, I think.
And do you feel like that’s reflected in your art as well?
Robert Hack: I think so…yes [Laughs]
Why keep Ambrose, who wasn’t in (or wasn’t a big part of) the Melissa Joan Hart show which so many new readers would be familiar with?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: He’s very different from how he was in the comic books. In the old comic books it was…first of all, I think it was cousin Ambrose or uncle Ambrose. I think it was cousin Ambrose but he was an older gentleman. I think we kind of wanted a friend Sabrina could talk to and I’m a big fan of the DC Comics character Klarion the Witch Boy, and I wanted us to have a witch boy so Ambrose became the witch boy.
The yonic symbol: intentional?
Robert Hack: Yes. One thousand percent intentional.
This interview was a blast. I hoped you enjoyed it and keep an eye out for issue #5 due to come out soon.